Happy End

HAPPY END, drama, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

When we last heard from Aus­trian di­rec­tor Michael Haneke in 2012, it was with Amour, his Os­car-win­ning film about the oc­to­ge­nar­ian cou­ple Ge­orges and Anne, a story of love and eu­thana­sia. Anne was played by Em­manuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour), who died a year ago at the age of eighty-nine. Ge­orges was por­trayed by the great Jean-Louis Trintig­nant (My Night at Maude’s). I men­tion this be­cause Trintig­nant is back in Haneke’s new film,

Happy End, again play­ing a char­ac­ter named Ge­orges, the pa­tri­arch of the wealthy Lau­rent fam­ily of Calais. Is­abelle Hup­pert, who played his daugh­ter Eva in Amour, is again his daugh­ter here, this time named Anne. Her thir­teen-year-old niece Eve (Fan­tine Har­duin) has just moved into the fam­ily com­pound to live with her fa­ther and his new wife and child, af­ter the sui­cide at­tempt (more on that in a mo­ment) of her mother. Is this a se­quel? Or just ev­i­dence of the film­maker’s fidelity to names?

(Caché, an ear­lier Haneke film, stars Juli­ette Binoche as a woman named Anne and Daniel Au­teuil as a man named Ge­orges.) In the new film, this Ge­orges re­counts to his young niece a key act from his past, which is in­escapably out of the cli­max of Amour.

Happy End opens with a nar­row ver­ti­cal video im­age in the mid­dle of the screen, shot on a cell­phone. Eve, from a dis­tance, records her mother pre­par­ing for bed. The girl ac­com­pa­nies the footage with acid com­men­tary on her mother’s weak­ness. As the video con­tin­ues, the sug­ges­tion emerges that Mom might not be the vic­tim of sui­cide, but of Eve’s pen­chant for slyly ad­min­is­ter­ing drugs in ex­ces­sive doses. The im­pact of that video footage lingers, mak­ing us un­com­fort­ably aware that we’re voyeurs of all that fol­lows.

Anne runs the fam­ily con­struc­tion busi­ness and is en­gaged to a Brit (Toby Jones). Her ne’er-do-well son Pierre (Frank Ro­gowski) is a drunk whose neg­li­gence was prob­a­bly re­spon­si­ble for a fa­tal work­place ac­ci­dent. Her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kasso­vitz), a sur­geon, is cheat­ing on his cur­rent wife with a cel­list, and try­ing to adapt to hav­ing a teenage daugh­ter back in his life. Eve is not the sort of teenager you’d be com­fort­able leav­ing the baby with. Ge­orges has in­cip­i­ent de­men­tia, and is try­ing to en­list some­one to help him die. It’s that kind of a fam­ily.

Haneke sets this story against the back­drop of the im­pov­er­ished African refugees who flood the port city of Calais. There’s a moral be­ing preached, but it plays sec­ond fid­dle to the chilly drama of this wealthy, dys­func­tional fam­ily. El­e­ments may carry over from the ten­der heart­break of Amour, but the ten­der­ness is nowhere to be seen. This is Haneke cut­ting with cold steel. — Jonathan Richards

What’s in a name: Jean-Louis Trintig­nant

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